Settlement in the first millennium BC

The settlement pattern of the whole Atlantic coast of Europe in the later first millennium BC is dominated by small defended enclosures. All appear to be variations on a simple theme, and examples can be found from the northern isles of Scotland down to Galicia and northern Portugal.

The impressive brochs (the pinnacle of a building type known as the complex round house), fortified duns (simple stone-built strongholds) and crannogs (artificial islands constructed to support a timber building or stone dun) of Scotland all form part of the same settlement tradition.

Stone brochs were built over two thousand years ago throughout northern Scotland. Such prestigious defended homesteads protected their occupants – but also their grain, as the raised granaries found within them would have provided secure storage. They were also powerful social statements, clearly displaying a family’s wealth and tenure over their land.

The word ‘broch’ comes from the Norse word ‘borg’ (meaning fort). It was first used to describe these ancient stone towers by Viking raiders in the 9th century AD.

Brochs are characterised by hollow wall drystone construction, with internal chambers, stairways and passages giving access to upper floor levels. They are technically very complex structures. It has been estimated that two specialist masons directing 24 labourers would take 200 days to build a broch (assuming that all the stone had been gathered first).